Is being deaf a blessing or a curse?

Is being deaf a blessing…or a curse? Sometimes I can’t decide.

Some days it’s funny. A while back, I was trying to figure out why someone was talking about zombies. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the actual subject was, but I do remember I thought he was talking about zombies.

Or sometimes it’s annoying. I told someone about how I misheard “elevator” as “elephant.” It was funny to me–just another case where I mishear something. However, this person took it seriously and told me what to do when I mishear something. I wanted to hit my head against the wall. I FREAKING KNOW. I know. I know it all too well. I’ve been deaf all my life. I’ve been asking people to repeat things all  my life. I know.

Some days, I’m mostly content. I don’t give a shit if people think I can’t sing (though my husband likes it, and so did a little girl at church, once.) I may not sing entirely in tune, but I do try hard to stay in time with the music. I prefer church music that is actually singable. How do I define “singable”? That’s hard to describe. I mean, I can sing Michael Joncas’ ‘On Eagles Wings,’ and it’s undoubtedly complicated.  I do very much appreciate singability of hymns from people like the St. Louis Jesuits and Marty Haugen. Chants are pretty easy, too–most of them. I also like common hymns such as Bunessan or Aurelia. Just nothing trite, please? Otherwise I get so horrified at the writer’s lack of skill that I can hardly bear to sing it. (Ruth Duck, I’m looking at you.)(Oh yeah, also looking at you, ‘Earth And All Stars.’)

Sometimes I’m frustrated. Gah. Please don’t get pissed at me just because I ask you to repeat something! I know you forget I’m deaf, but really, you should have patience for EVERYONE and not just deaf people. I know it’s easy to get aggravated–especially on the phone. But on the phone is when you should be more patient.

Sometimes I am proud of my own reluctant bravery. When someone calls me at work, they don’t usually know I’m deaf. That’s because the ones who know generally email me, instead. I get anxious every time the phone rings. Please let someone else pick it up…I pray every single time. When nobody else does, I quickly pick it up while worrying, What if they have an accent? What if they talk too fast? What if their voice is the “wrong” one for the phone? In good cases, I can figure out what they’re wanting based on the few sounds and words I can understand.

Caller: i, i an to inu om ook i ah ow.
Me: Sorry, can you say that again?
Caller: Ah lie to ino my ook, leese.
Me: You’d like to renew your books? Sure, I can do that!

It’s like Wheel of Fortune with phonics.

Other times, I curse and wish I was MORE deaf then I wouldn’t have to use the phone at all, never mind that so many jobs require you to be able to use it. Fuck the invention of the phone! Can we stick with email, please? Even the telegraph would be easier to understand with the short dots and the long dots and the pauses, than human speech–let’s go back to the telegraph! Then I wouldn’t have to deal with people who get testy after I ask them to repeat things for the 5th time, or when I repeat back what I thought I heard, only for it to be miles apart from what they actually said. Such calls leave me close to tears when I hang up. I try to hang onto those tears until I get home.

It’s days like these that I wonder if my ability to listen, understand, and speak well despite my profound hearing loss works against me because then people forget I’m deaf. Seriously. People forget, except for good friends, relatives, and the accent-perceptive people who ask what country I’m from. (I’ve heard them wonder if I’m British, German, or a New Zealander.)

Other days I’m proud of being deaf. It’s an integral part of what makes me ME. I have a sensitive spot for deaf kids–especially since I grew up not knowing any other adult who uses hearing aids, and very few HOH (hard of hearing) kids. I want the HOH kids know that they can succeed in the hearing world. No, they don’t need to be fully hearing. And no, they don’t need to be fully deaf, either. It’s not black and white; there’s shades of grey. (and no, it’s not the novels. get your mind out of the gutter.) It’s possible to hold that middle position. There are many things we can do. It might take a little bit of accommodation, but yes! we can!

…and then I turn right around and ask my husband to call insurance and wrestle with them about my cochlear processor replacement, because no! I can’t! It takes so much brain processing power to hear over the phone that I don’t have time to think about what they’re saying, and usually end up taking the easy road out by saying, “Okay, thanks!” and then hanging up….even when I have no clue what I just said ‘thanks’ to. My husband is able to listen AND think on the phone. What a concept.

See, that’s the other thing. Technology is wonderful, but it is SO FREAKING EXPENSIVE. My hearing aid is $2000. My cochlear processor is $8000. The former isn’t usually covered under insurance as a “lifestyle device.” The latter is usually, because it’s a “durable medical equipment.” It’s enough to make anyone throw up their hands and scream. Pictured below: the small $8000 device.

On the other hand, working right through the frustrations brings a sense that I’m doing something important for the greater good. I hope my efforts to push through and succeed and educate others makes the world a little easier for other HOH and deaf people. I know the collective efforts of people who came before me helped me.

Even with all the frustrations I shared above (and there’s looooads more I didn’t share), I lean toward the blessing answer to my question. I have been blessed to know many fantastic Deaf people. I have been blessed to get to know mothers who are raising HOH children. I have been blessed every time people ask me questions about deafness, because that makes for fewer clueless people in the world.

What say you? Blessing or curse?

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  • Holly, brave post as always. I lean toward the blessing end of the question for my daughter whose hearing impairment is very like your own. Her deafness has allowed her to learn to be very focused on the work before her and to blunt the strength of external distractions. It has forced her to learn self-advocacy, so at 9 years old she is taking access questions into her own hands at school with her teachers and even the principal. It has given her a great attention to visual detail and is teaching her strong listening skills using visual inferences to help. She is facing for the first time kids at school saying foolish things about her on account of her hearing loss, so she is also learning to develop a strong inner core and a rational response to gossip.

    Most folks learn these things eventually. Our daughter has been forcibly handed the opportunity to gain these skills very early in her life. She is in a sad phase about her hearing loss right now, but even then she doesn't let it limit her. She just had her first flute recital and has had speaking and singing roles in two plays. She just ran her second 5K. She's planning out her work for the summer which includes learning Greek and keeping a poetry notebook.

    When she was very little, I used to say, oh what a good thing that God gave her such a huge personality to counterbalance her hearing loss. My husband playfully responded that God gave her the hearing loss to counterbalance the outsize personality. I don't know which it is, probably neither case--all I know is, who she is now, as she is now, is a huge blessing to us.

  • In reply to Julie:

    Your daughter is awesome, Julie--taking access matters into her own hands already! It took me a bit longer to get the hang of it, myself--I was far more shy than your daughter sounds, with her outsized personality :)

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